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Rock Climbing in Northern Ireland

Posted on July 24, 2013 @ 11:53 AM in Adventure

Writer, publisher and climbing enthusiast David Flanagan recently took to the Mournes to do what he loves best – rock climbing….

The Mourne Mountains have a huge amount of rock climbing, with nearly 1000 climbs spread over 26 different crags.  And it happens that the longest climb in the Mournes is also one of the easiest.


When viewed from the floor of Annalong Valley the south face of Slieve Lamagan appears to be a vertical wall of almost alpine proportions. However this is just an optical illusion, it's actually a low-angled (at least in rock climbing terms) slab, that lies at around 45 degrees.

A route called FM, named by Roy Johnston, who was the first person to climb it in the late forties, tackles the longest most continuous section of the slab.

FM is graded Very Difficult (aka VDiff), which confusingly enough, is actually considered pretty easy. When the rock climbing grading system was conceived, back in the days of hemp ropes and hobnailed boots, VDiff was considered exactly that, very difficult, but nowadays - largely thanks to improvements in technology - it's at the lower end of the scale. A VDiff climb should be within the ability of a determined beginner.

The 162m long FM is a multi-pitch climb, which means that it's not possible to climb from the top to the bottom in one rope length. So climbers use intermediate belays to regroup mid-climb, this technique is known as multi-pitch.

One Saturday not long ago, my friend Peter and I drove up from Dublin to do FM. The forecast was for a cloudy start followed by sun in the afternoon. As we left Carrick Little car park at noon, the cloud was low and there was a light drizzle falling.  Usually it's not possible to climb in the rain but as FM is pretty easy and the Mourne granite is so rough we were confident setting off.

Shortly after Percy Bysshe we left the track to scramble up the scree slope to the start of the route. Here we put on our harnesses and helmets and tied into the rope. The drizzle was still falling and the mist was sweeping in and out. On the basis that it wasn't getting any drier I set off, climbing carefully, making sure not to slip on the damp rock.

Once I'd nearly climbed the length of the rope, I anchored myself and Peter climbed up to join me. We repeated this routine five times before we got to the top. The climbing was wonderful, the rock clean and solid with plentiful holds.

Most of the route is low angled and delicate but there are two steeper section where the rock briefly becomes vertical.  The first one of these is the crux, the hardest part of the route. The second is the final, and steepest, section of the route. The steep corner has plenty of massive hand holds and the final strenuous pull over the lip is a fitting finale to an amazing climb.

By the time we reached the top the sun had burnt off the cloud and we sat and enjoyed the views down the Annalong Valley, across to the Tors on Slieve Binnian and out to sea. What better way to spend a damp day in the Mournes?

If this has inspired you to explore the rock climbing opportunities in Northern Ireland then make sure to check out the Climbing Section of which includes details on how to get started as well as a list of activity providers and upcoming courses.

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David Flanagan
David Flanagan  Writer, Publisher and Rock Climbing Enthusiast

David Flanagan is a writer and publisher from Dublin.
He has been climbing for nearly 20 years, focusing on bouldering, a type of climbing that is done relatively close to the ground without ropes.

He is currently putting the finishing touches on his second book, a bouldering instructional manual. His next project is a guide to the best of Irish Rock Climbing.

From Torr Head to Le Tour - Setting goals to achieve great heights

Posted on July 23, 2013 @ 11:23 AM in Cycling

Two members of the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive team recently returned from conquering the L'Etape du Tour (the amateur stage of Le Tour de France.) Chris Scott explains how goal setting and expert coaching allowed two 'average joes' to complete such a challenge.

 Every goal has to begin with inspiration - whilst backpacking around Europe in 2001 I was en route to the Arc de Triomphe for a spot of sightseeing when my route was blocked by a cycle race.  I started chatting to an American couple who told me in great detail how a cancer survivor from Texas had just won his third consecutive Tour de France.  Say what you like about the guy but from that moment on I was hooked.

Due to commitments to other sports, cycling took a back seat with only the odd charity cycle and half baked triathlon attempt.  However in 2011 a conscious decision was made to complete the L'Etape du Tour.  With keen cyclist and work colleague Chris Armstrong easily convinced to sign up to the same goal we set about training for the now defunct  Etape Hibernia in Co Clare later that summer . 

We aimlessly road for hours around Strangford Lough and the Glens of Antrim (creating the  basis of the Giants Causeway Coast Sportive route in our minds) and the infamous Torr Head became our nemesis (yes we are to blame for its inclusion within the route!!).  The Etape Hibernia was completed in a reasonable time yet a lot more was required - but how could we feasibly fit in more training?

2012 was a disaster with more of my time spent in the physio's treatment room than on the bike, however with encouragement from Chris A, we battled through the Inishowen 100 and Etape Cymru through the mountains of North Wales.  Injury restricted training aside we were a long way from taking on any Alpine passes.  

(Chris A and Chris S on Five Finger Strand - Inishowen 100)

With our goal and the experience of the Irish & UK based sportives still firmly front of mind we registered for the 2013 stage of 130km from Annency to Annecny Semnoz - with the summit finish of 11.5 km @ 8.5% it was no small undertaking.

A new carbon Vitus Dark Plasma VR was purchased thanks to great advice and support from the Chain Reaction Cycles Flagship Store in Belfast but our best investment was in the coaching services of Dig Deep Coaching.

Following an interview with coach Stephen Gallagher and completion of a detailed questionnaire, we received our training programme.  Training changed from aimlessly cycling round for hours until we felt tired to shorter focused efforts of heart rate and cadence .   After the first winter turbo session it became clear that Dig Deep Coaching's programme was going to give us everything we needed to succeed (if we followed it!!)

It should be said we probably weren't model clients - due to work commitments we struggled to follow the plan to a tee but Stephen remained patient and positive - in fact I think his greatest skill is that he treats everybody with the same professionalism and enthusiasm regardless of whether you are an average joe or a champion road racer.

With training complete, the day itself was the most amazing experience, we set off from the shores of Lake Annecy in waves totalling 11,500 cyclists from over 50 countries.  With 3 categorised climbs out of the way before breakfast it became clear we would finish within the time limit - providing we finished i.e. coped with the increasing heat.   Rudyard Kipling said 'only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid days  sun' - I certainly felt like a mad dog when climbing 15km up Mont Revard in 30 degrees Celsius.

The summit finish up Semnoz was always going to be the biggest challenge, in fact it gave us both a kicking during a recce trip in May.  But as the large crowd cheered us along the lower slopes something kicked in (maybe the caffeine gels),  I was suddenly transported back to my garage turbo sessions of high cadence and heart rates. As I overtook competitors wobbling on the brink, pushing their bikes or lying on the road side I counted off every 100 metres on my GPS until the top and the finish.  

9 hours later with 5 1/2 hours climbing we were at the finish, certainly not breaking any records (Chris Froome completed the stage in just under 4 hours) but a life goal completed. Thanks to the L'Etape du Tour and Dig Deep Coaching cycling will never be the same again! So set a goal, make a plan and enjoy the success - why not start with the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive on September 7th this year.


Latest comment posted by Beverley - GCCS on July 31, 2013 @ 11:15 AM

Hi Swaas, That's great to hear that you are coming over from Holland for the event, this will surely be an event to remember for the scenery alone. The Torr Head road is 11miles long with ... Read more >

Chris Scott
Chris Scott

When not boring everyone about his little kids’ latest antics, Chris enjoys sailing and cycling, if only to offset his love of eating out and Marlborough Cabernet Sauvignon..

Can’t see the wood for the trees

Posted on July 4, 2013 @ 12:37 PM in Mountainbiking

Guest Blog submitted by Andrea Harrower

For any MTBer disappointed by the partial closure of the new trails at Castlewellan, the phrase “you can’t see the wood for the trees” springs to mind! Stop focussing on the words larch disease, and instead see Castlewellan for what it is even with some trail closure – a spectacular place that still boasts a great percentage of open red route, the Dolly’s Chute black route and the entire green family cycling trail. 

Castlewellan MTB Trails

Yes, it’s a blow, because anybody that has ridden the trails has been blown away by how awesome they are from both a biking and scenery point of view. But for those red route seekers, plenty of the trails and fire roads can be combined with the fantastic section of red route that remains open. And just think, if you do repeats of the open sections, you’ll be an expert at them in time for the closed sections to open again. Or you’ll be covered in so many bruises from falls on Dolly’s Chute that the rest of the trails will feel like a doddle!

And if that isn’t enough, there’s the pump track to perfect your skills on, the maze to get lost for hours in!, vast green open areas and lake-side spots to picnic on, and endless possibilities of other outdoor activities with established activity provider Life, based in the courtyard.

Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails

The Belles and Young Guns continue to use Castlewellan regularly, with some of the rocky sections that remain open and the tight fire road climbs providing the Belles with good terrain and training for their recent race at Fortwilliam, where they won female pair at “10 under the Ben”. The open trails continue to be a huge draw for the wee ones too: “How can you not have fun there? I wish I could live there for a wee while,” commented Fraser, age 9.

Whether you want to blast an hour or two on MTBs, or spend a whole day at a stunning location doing as little or as much as you can, Castlewellan remains a top venue even with partial trail closure.

Next up for The Belles is HOPEFULLY the Race Across America! One the most respected and longest running endurance sports events in the world, the RAAM inlcudes 3000 miles of cycling across 12 states, 88 counties and 350 communities ascending over 170,000 vertical feet.

The Belles

The Belles are seeking financial and commercial support to actually have a chance of making the start line in June 2014. They have key leads with media contacts with a view to TV publicity and would love to hear from local companies interested in getting on board. Check out the Belles Facebook Page or on Twitter @BellesOutdoor

Latest comment posted by Russell Briggs on July 9, 2013 @ 8:39 PM

I had the pleasure to ride at Rostrevor and Davagh last Tuesday, and I just want to say: these trails are awesome! I live in Northern California and wish we had purpose built trails like this. ... Read more >

Andrea Harrower
Andrea Harrower  The Belles

Eternal adventure seeker.... A sports enthusiast, who competes at a high level but who has as much passion for encouraging other females and kids into the great outdoors. Along with 3 other like-minded girls she founded The Belles in 2009!

Diving in Northern Ireland

Posted on July 3, 2013 @ 2:38 PM in AdventureBeaches

OutdoorNI’s Sarah Nelson recently headed to the North Coast to spend the morning Scuba Diving with Aquaholics Dive Centre. Here’s how she got on…

Spectacular landscapes, seaweed covered wrecks, amazing marine wildlife…no I’m not describing some tropical climes, all of this can be found in the waters surrounding Northern Ireland.  Contrary to popular belief you don’t need to travel half way around the world to experience breathing underwater - the North Coast has it all! So off I went on a gloriously sunny day to the headquarters of  Aquaholics in Portstewart very excited to give diving a go for the first time. A PADI Five Star Dive Centre I knew I would be in safe hands and it was here I met my friendly instructor for the morning – Dave.  After taking time to go through all the necessary health and safety forms we had a quick chat in the shop about what to expect during the session.   We covered the very basic, but important principles of diving including how to communicate when under water using the various hand signals, equalizing (a method used to equalize the pressure in your ears when descending) and how to ascend slowly as well as the golden rule; don’t touch anything no matter how pretty, shiny and inviting it looks!

 Diving Northern Ireland

A two minute drive from the shop we arrived at our spot; Portnahapple, a naturally formed old swimming cove. Having taught and dived all over the world Dave had recently moved to the North Coast from the Caribbean and was adamant that the diving in our ‘wee’ country was just as good.  After admiring the view it was wetsuit time - the hardest thing I would do all day according to Dave.  Ready for the neoprene challenge, thankfully it wasn’t quite the ordeal I was braced for and I was suited and booted in no time.  We then chatted through all the kit (there was a lot!) from the snorkel mask and fins to buoyancy control device, oxygen canister and weight belt before having a few dry runs with the regulator until I felt confident using it.  Gloves and hood on - now I really felt like I looked the part even if by default I looked ridiculous! One thing was for sure though; at least I wouldn’t be feeling the cold sea temperatures.  Once on, I won’t lie the kit was pretty heavy but it wasn't long before it became weightless once in the water.

 Diving Northern Ireland

Fins in hand we made our way down to the shore. Waddling into the water - no cool backwards dives into the sea for us that is reserved for the open water course and those who know what they’re doing.  We sat in the shallows for a bit of practice using the regulator, removing and replacing it and clearing the mask from any leakages all whilst underwater. As it was my first time Dave looked after my oxygen levels and buoyancy so all I had to concentrate on was breathing underwater which took a little while to get used to.

It was then time to get a bit of depth and go exploring. As my instructor elegantly glided along beside me I was far less graceful in the water flapping all over the place but apparently moving through the water effortlessly comes with practice and thankfully Dave was there to manoeuvre me round and get me back on track.  Our first encounter was with some giant green stuff which I had been forewarned was not in fact a giant sea monster but kelp and lots of it. There were plenty of interesting rocks and it wasn’t long before we came across our first crab scuttling along the sea bed.  The visibility was a lot better than I had expected as we descended to around 8 metres.  It really was another world at the bottom - so quiet and peaceful and looking up above to see the current of the water on the surface above was amazing.  Dave was quick to point out all the things I would have probably missed as I was trying to take everything in including the highlight of the day, an absolutely massive crab.

Hands down the best thing about the whole experience was that it didn’t take place in a swimming pool which meant I not only got to properly dive in the sea on my first go but it was also certainly a lot more interesting than staring at some tiles at the bottom of a pool.  Granted we didn’t find nemo or any other tropical fish for that matter but there were still quite a lot of pretty cool things to see that I didn’t think would be down there.

Time flies when you’re having fun so it wasn’t long until it was time to head in.  Wading out of the waters like creatures from the deep we took one man and his dog casually sitting on the rocks by surprise as we emerged apparently out of no where from the water. As soon as we got back on dry land I was already enquiring about the next steps to continue diving.  Dave had warned me that once I tried scuba diving there would be no going back…and he was right! 

Activity Provider:

Aquaholics Dive Centre
14 Portmore Rd
Northern Ireland
BT55 7BE

028 70832584


Sarah attended theTry a Divecourse with Aquaholics. A three hour taster session suitable for all ages from 10 years. No experience of diving needed.

Diving lessons take place all year round with March to October providing the best conditions. Simply contact Aquaholics to book a date that suits you. 


£80 for the Try a Dive Experience

Gift Vouchers for this experience are also available to buy online at


Latest comment posted by Melissa on March 13, 2018 @ 11:56 AM

Scuba diving is one of my biggest passions. The main reason I love diving is the adventure, because you never know what you will found below the water surface. I use the map to ... Read more >

Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson  Marketing Officer

Sarah joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in 2011. A firm believer in giving anything a go at least once (unless it involves jumping out of a plane at 6,000ft!) she is always looking for new adventures in the outdoors and can often be found wandering the Mournes or Glens of Antrim attempting not to get lost!

Northern Ireland's Outdoor Adventure Blog